Updated: Jul 11, 2020
Addictive behaviors presented many faces over the decades...most of all - RELIEF!
Addict: to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively. (Merriam-Webster)
It took me decades to recognize my introversion. I grew up thinking something was wrong with me, that I was not normal because I preferred playing alone than with others and because my clunky social efforts made me yearn for escape.
But it took me until this past year to understand I am an addict. Throughout my life I have surrendered myself to something habitual.
Like introversion, addiction is not a choice but a personality trait, an internal drive for reasons I do not yet fully understand. Perhaps it is partially genetic, though neither of my parents were alcoholics or into drugs. Yet what I've discovered is that addiction is not necessarily related to drugs or alcohol. Addiction may not even be a bad thing, though the connotations are certainly so.
Like many things, addiction is probably both genetic and environmental. I grew up in a loving yet turbulent family in the '70s. Three older, mischievious teenage sisters, an undiagnosed introvert father, and my agoraphobic mother will do that.
Yet, my experience with my parents was warm and supportive. However, they were also protective to the point of letting me get away with my errors without teaching me valuable lessons or even more valuable coping skills. They didn't discuss politics or war, and certainly steered away from family health or financial topics. They bottled it up inside and I intrinsically learned to do the same.
Despite many articles and much social media conjecture, there is no proven link between introversion and addiction (see today's IntrovertLink article on my website). But for me, personally, my introversion and poor social skills led to low self-esteem from an early age. Combined with a lack of mature coping skills, my addictive personality sought various outlets to relieve the stress inside my head.
Even at eleven, I was drawn to my first alcoholic drink by a stocked bar and a vacant household. Before I was thirteen I found that same elixir could help relieve my pain in social situations. So for decades...through college and the most stressful parts of my career, I partnered with my liquid friend to survive ambitious ladder climbing, business trips and cocktail hours.
But my addictive personality was multi-faceted. I was a gambler and bookie for a while in college. Until recently, I've been a non-stop gum chewer. I am an obsessive planner (see my earlier blog) and our family vacations are like living the pages of a packed tour book.
I went through feeding binges and later crash diets. After losing 70lbs I returned to my pattern of stopping on my way to work to get doughnuts before having another breakfast when I arrived. I stopped for gas, chips, and cookies on the way home before enjoying a home cooked meal an hour later. Sometimes I ate to escape the environment I myself had created and other times I ate to celebrate surviving another pressure-packed day.
At the depths of my despair, I was ushered out of an overseas job which fortunately forced me to take stock of my life. I realized I was spiraling out of control and took the opportunity to stop drinking and find jobs more conducive to my strengths.
This change helped a lot, yet didn't quench my addictive nature. Before long, five mile bike rides with the family turned into 75-mile rides across town and eventually two 170-mile two-day rides from Houston. Like most people I joined on those rides, I too rode for the challenge and the accomplishment, but for me I also needed to soothe another habit...I had to. So it was no surprise that when I was abruptly sidelined with a shoulder injury my body picked up an opioid addiction in my attempt to calm the month-long pain.
A couple of years later, I was back at it. Less than a year after pulling myself off the couch to run just a minute at a time on a treadmill, I was limping across the finish line of the Houston 13.1 mile Half Marathon.